A stunning strike from David Silva ensured that Valencia CF ended the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final with Chelsea FC the happier of two closely-matched teams despite Didier Drogba's equaliser early in the second period.
The 2000 and 2001 finalists took the lead on the half-hour in west London, Silva producing an unstoppable strike out of nowhere from what looked an unpromising position on the Valencia left. Although Chelsea levelled through Drogba's sixth goal in the competition this season - and his 30th of the campaign - it is the away goal that will give the Spanish side fortitude as they await Tuesday evening's second leg at the Mestalla.
The importance of away goals had been emphasised again in Valencia's defeat of FC Internazionale Milano in the previous round and the visitors were true to their promise of attempting a repeat. David Villa was the first to threaten when a lovely combination with Silva released him to the left of goal but his bid to beat Petr Čech could not emulate the precision of the build-up. Andriy Shevchenko then came into the picture, and although he ended up on the floor as David Albelda challenged, referee Frank De Bleeckere allowed the advantage and Salomon Kalou was quick to capitalise, turning swiftly and unleashing a powerful shot that beat Santiago Cañizares only to bounce back off the crossbar.
The contest was already living up to its lavish billing and Valencia were impressing with their ability to drag defenders out of position and create openings. Silva spurned a glorious opportunity, diverting Joaquín Sánchez's low drive wide, but when he was next involved the Spain forward demonstrated immense quality to fire his team ahead. Silva got a lucky break off John Obi Mikel following a Valencia throw-in down the left, giving the 21-year-old room to advance. He was still outside the penalty area and at an unfavourable angle when he unexpectedly let fly and was rewarded as the ball arrowed into the far corner of Chelsea's net.
The English champions responded with a succession of free-kicks either side of half-time with Michael Ballack heading wide, Kalou miscuing a far-post chance and Cañizares failing to fully convince as Frank Lampard whipped over another set-piece. The goalkeeper's uncertainty possibly unnerved his defence because when Ashley Cole punted a long ball forward, Ayala was less than his usual immaculate self, failing to cut out the bouncing ball and inviting Drogba to nod over the goalkeeper and bring Chelsea level.
Just as in the last round against FC Porto, Chelsea had found themselves behind at home only to recover and with Lampard becoming more influential, they suggested another victory was in the offing, although Ayala and company were holding firm as the blue waves continued to lap at their feet. José Mourinho sent on Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips to try and give his team a cutting edge and there were more free-kicks and corners for the visitors to defend in the closing stages. One set-piece nearly produced a winner as Shevchenko executed an overhead kick which Luis Miguel deflected over the top to preserve Valencia's draw.